I have lived the vast majority of my life in Fairfield County, but one of the most important lessons in food I ever received happened in rural Georgia. A group of friends and I had taken a camping trip in the general vicinity of Vidalia, where the onions come from, and were in the midst of a long (and severely fire-ant-bitten, in my case) ride back home when we saw a rough, plywood sign appear on the side of the road, leaning against a stack of cinder blocks. The sign had three letters on its face in runny, black spray paint: “BBQ.”
What followed was, without any sort of doubt, the best BBQ I’d ever had in my life. We ate three times as much food as anyone should eat at one sitting without having previously drawn up a will. It was a great reward for taking a chance at an odd location
Significantly closer to the reactor core of urban life that is the New York Metropolitan Area is Glenbrook Center in Stamford. Heck, there’s even a Metro North stop, and across from that stop on the New Canaan line is Monster B’s. The location is out of sight and mind for most people looking to go out on the town in The City That Works, but sometimes the best things are hidden in plain locations. That “thing” in this case is the best beer selection in the county, paired with above-average food in a large, comfortable space.
Monster B’s has a large deck that’s better left bypassed during the winter months on your way to the front doors which open onto the large bar and its 30 taps. The selection of draught beers is ever changing, and listed on a large blackboard above the bar by name and alcohol by volume, or ABV. The draughts are also named on the beer menu, along with over 180 other brews available in bottles. When a keg kicks during the course of operating hours, it’s replaced with whichever other keg is closest, as far as I can tell. By the time you leave on a busy night there can be three to five different beers available then when you walked in. If you like beer, even a little, this is your local, sunlit, mossy patch of nirvana.
The food at Monster B’s is taken seriously by the staff, and may be described as Super Pub Grub. A half rack of BBQ pork ribs is served with beans, coleslaw, and a half ear of corn on the cob, and the meat, while maybe not quite falling off the bone, does show a rather indifferent attitude to the attachment. There is an impressive amount of smokiness to the flavor for an establishment lacking both hardwood fire and corrugated metal construction, and the sauce has a pleasant amount of spice.
I had a simple grilled chicken Caprese wrap with crisp greens, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and balsamic dressing paired with standard fries – a go-to selection on my part that I would recommend. A female friend of mine who is a fanatic about all things brined cucumber has in the past told me that she would fight someone over one of the pickle spears that come with most of the more simple dishes like this one. Another member of my party enjoyed a salmon piccata in a rather heavy sauce with roasted broccoli and cauliflower. The roasting, he thought, imparted to the cruciform vegetables a noticeable hint of popcorn. A recent iteration of the menu is available for viewing at monsterbs.com, and it’s not your standard burgers and wings, as you can tell.
HOWEVAH do not sleep on the wings, which come in three varieties: mild, medium, and Don’t Be A Hero. No joke. Just one of the “Hero” wings once sent an unprepared friend of mine into such fits a spectator might be forgiven for thinking he was in the grips of a bad acid trip. Some people go for that, though, and for them, Monster B’s has created the “Hall Of Flame.” Ten wings, hotter than the Heroes, must be consumed in ten minutes or less with a ten minute cool down period to follow. Those who complete the challenge have the $20 fee waived, are treated a free beer and t-shirt, receive ever-lasting glory in the Hall Of Flame, and presumable later discover the medicinal purpose of omeprazole.
The large bar easily holds over 50 people, and back rooms separated by a stage for the bands that often play at B’s hold more tables for eating and playing a few games of pool. The large space holds another Hall, and this one is more on-target with Monster B’s general theme. The Hall Of Foam isn’t kin to the wing challenge so much as it’s a like map on a wall into which red pins have been pressed cataloging one’s travels. Anyone may ask for a free, numbered Hall Of Foam card onto which they write the names of new beers they have tried, as they try them. 100 different varieties enters drinkers into the Hall Of Foam, netting the aforementioned t-shirt and glorious immortality in photographic form, along with $1 off all future non-happy-hour drafts and 10% off the entire food bill for the night. One can’t exactly brag about the accomplishment like a certain king regarding St. Crispin’s day, but the cards, as you can see from your occasionally humble author’s example, do show a few scars by the time this particular achievement is unlocked.
I started off the evening with a pint of local beer: Thomas Hooker Nor’Easter lager. The brewery, which is in Bloomfield, describes Nor’Easter as a “Winter Embracing Brew,” and shows a deep, reddish-brown color with a light, white head. The flavor is smooth, almost creamy, but with a good tingle on the tongue from the bursting carbonation. It’s a very lightly spiced beer with more than a hint of toasty grains and caramel. At 6% ABV, it’s more than a macro-brew lager, but mild enough in punch and flavor to make easy pairing with most foods, and is gratifying to drink all on its own.
It’s important to avoid drinking “backwards” when sampling different beers. The best idea is to start with more mild varieties and then more your way up, or forwards, into more flavorful brews so as not to overwhelm one’s palate and mask the features of subsequent offerings. Following this sacred code, I moved up to BrewDog Punk IPA. The Punk was served in a chalice in order to trap the aroma, which is sweet and redolent of citrusy hops, like a Belgian Ale.
BrewDog, the Scottish craft beer brewer also known for heavy hitting beers like Tactical Nuclear Penguin and The End of History, a 110-proof elixir costing $765 a bottle (those bottles wrapped in, I swear to God, taxidermied bodies of weasels, hares and squirrels) has taken a decidedly more restrained route with this India Pale Ale. Semi-filtered, and on the orange side of gold, color-wise, this beer has a thick, lacey head which traps the aroma delightfully. It is not wildly hopped like American IPAs or BrewDog’s own Sink The Bismarck! Double IPA, but hop bite is there, with a pleasantly bitter finish which manages to never be a turn-off owing to the sweetness coming at the beginning of every sip. Several flavors mingle harmoniously in this beer, reminiscent of Houblon Chouffe.
Winter beers typically exhibit a richness and weight that would be difficult to drink in the sweltering humidity of a late July afternoon, but seem just the ting when the primitive vestiges in our minds note the lengthening nights and instruct us to fatten up for the cold. They are typically fairly heavily spiced with all manner of ingredients from cloves and nutmeg to orange peels and raisins. By now I was prepared for a dark, spicy brew. What I got instead was a Magic Hat Winter Howl, the replacement for the brewery’s outstanding discontinued winter brew, Jinx. The Howl was a red so deep it was almost black, and had almost no head or lace at all. I actually dipped my nose into the beer in my attempt to detect even a hint of aroma. The taste is mild as a Jay Leno joke, but moderately malty with a definitive roasty grain overtone. The brewer seems to have meant to make this a more mass-market, sessionable offering. It is not a bad or unpleasant beer by any stretch of the pessimistic imagination, but it was a bit of a letdown for me as I expected something more in the manner of a liquid fruitcake.
No one thinks about hanging out in Glanbrook, but I take friends, and the odd German beer snob, to Monster B’s in part because it’s unexpected. One such friend, a recent transplant from San Diego, casually remarked that he “didn’t think you had these out here” when the bar under our forearms and the floor under our stools shook with a low rumble for 15 or 20 seconds.
“You’re right: we don’t have earthquakes,” I said. “That’s just the train going by behind the bar.”
“Weird,” he said.
Weird indeed, but a wise man once wrote that sometimes you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.
Monster B’s Bar & Grille, 489 Glenbrook Rd, Stamford, 203 355 1032